Sunday 21 March 2021

An Entirely New Type of Puzzle?

The recent collaboration between Chris Lohe and Andrew Crowell
Last week's post showed off the recent releases from Jakub and Jaroslav at the New Pelikan Workshop and I am pleased to see that many of you did read my drivel and have bought the wonderful new toys when they went up for sale. In fact two items are sold out already (if you did miss out on anything then I am sure that they will eventually be stocked by PuzzleMaster). I received all 7 of the puzzles and I am always very aware that Jakub is waiting for my reviews before he puts them up for sale so the pressure to solve and write is very high. Luckily for me this time there were two of the batch that were sent to the Zen puzzler himself, Ken Irvine, for review and I did not have to be too fast with these. Ken is a master of the design and solution of interlocking puzzles and is very uniquely placed to give an opinion of the two beautiful lumps of wood and if you read the blurb on the Pelikan site on them, then you already know that Ken was extremely enthusiastic. I did, however, really want to try them and give an opinion for you all (even if I am not sure why you even read my stuff let alone pay attention to what I think).

First of all, let me say that these puzzles are absolutely amazing and you should buy them straight away - unfortunately the Cyburr has sold out already but in my opinion the Chamburr is the best of the two and certainly MUCH more difficult. Stop reading this right now and rush over and buy - you will not regret it.

I have waxed lyrical about Christoph Lohe and his designs many many times over the years - he has a very unique talent for designing puzzles that are just the right difficulty level and really interesting to solve with some very long and difficult to find sequences but always fun to work through - he is almost a savant. Then we are all aware of the incredible effect that Andrew Crowell has had on the puzzle world. He has taken the rather small rarified area of Turning Interlocking Cubes (TICs) into the stratosphere in terms of interest and difficulty. So...when these two incredible puzzle designers team up I just have to sit up and pay attention! This is should definitely prove to be something simply spectacular and YES it is incredible - it is almost like they have developed a whole new category where the interlocking puzzle is combined with the TIC without making something that is impossible for humans.

Starting with Cyburr (this is the one you should pick up first), we have a gorgeous cube made with a Mahogany frame and Maple burr sticks. It has been beautifully finished and the initial moves are buttery smooth. There are a number of choices possible at the beginning and quickly you can home in on the correct path. Some puzzles I find are spoiled by having too many blind ends or some that go much too far before petering out. I like a fascinating sequence with a few side paths to explore but not too much risk of getting hopelessly lost. During the pathway through this disassembly, there is a wonderful dance as the pieces are weaved around each other inexorably towards an exit. The exit this time seems possible at several times as the burr sticks get less and less interwoven but even when one is separated from the pack then it still cannot be simply pushed out. This is where Andrew's wonderful skill has come in...rotations are required. Not too many that it is possible to get hopelessly lost and entangled. He has designed it so that rotations are actually very difficult to achieve and are only possible with exact positioning of all 3 of the pieces within the frame. This is not going to happen by accident - it requires thought©. The Aha! moment is wonderful. Two rotations are required and the pieces are ready for your exultant photo:

Stunning precision on that craftsmanship
The reassembly is a serious challenge! This puzzle cannot be solved by Burrtools but the process of disassembly should take you back and forth enough to lay down a decent muscle memory to allow you to scramble the pieces and still be able to put it back together again. If I can do it then all of you (who are considerably cleverer than me should manage it). I do agree with Ken that this puzzle is probably too difficult to be sent out as pieces to be assembled from scratch - only a very few of us could manage that. The Cyburr has a sequence 38 moves to remove the first piece which is a prodigiously high number especially as 36 are linear before the first rotation is required. If you see this up for sale again then buy it!

Next up is the Chamburr (I am not sure why it is named this but for me this is the "Champagne of the interlocking cubes" - it is stunningly fun and really quite a tough challenge. I did not know at the time that this was the harder of the two and this was the one that I started with. Again it is beautiful with the frame made from Merbau and the three burr sticks made from a lovely warm Pink Oak. It is slightly less aesthetically pleasing than Cyburr purely because it doesn't have the completely filled face that the other does. But it is stunning. The movements of the pieces are smooth and again there is just the right number and depth of dead ends to explore. The Chamburr is slightly easier at the beginning than the Cyburr but gets MUCH more difficult about ⅔ of the way through. With both of these puzzles, Pelikan has made all of the internal edges of the burr sticks and the frames very sharp which I suspect is to prevent any illegal rotations being found but the adverse effect of this is that finding some of the linear moves can be quite hard as the pieces need to be held just right and everything lined up perfectly for them to slide on each other. This can be a little infuriating at first but it does mean that finding the linear moves is more than just pushing and pulling the pieces randomly. It is more that the moves need to be thought out and planned. After 10 or 15 minutes of play with each of these puzzles I came to appreciate the precision and sharpness of these edges and used them to my advantage.

The Chamburr has a couple of very interesting rotations that are possible at about the ¾-way mark and apart from a bit of a panic when I thought I couldn't undo them, I realised that this made for a fun dead end and quite a bit more exploration without risking getting lost. After realising my misstep, I continued. The linear part of the path for this one is VERY complex and several times I got to a point where I could not backtrack without a huge re-exploration of that part of the path. I must have gone back and forth over that section of the solution 10 or 15 times before I understood the dance path of the pieces and could repeat them easily. After 43 moves (amazingly, all of which are linear) the first piece can be removed. This is a stunning odyssey before the remaining pieces can be taken out of the frame with a rotation:

43 moves to take the first piece out!
Despite the fact that the initial part of the solution is linear, this is by far the toughest of the two. It is incredibly difficult to find your winding path through the moves - these pieces dance about in and out of each other and the frame but the pathway is really well hidden. The requirement for the rotations is the icing on the cake - it makes the puzzle constructable and also means that if you get stuck you cannot just go to Burrtools and make yourself a solution file. You HAVE to persevere with it and work it out. It is worth it - just keep trying and you will understand it eventually.

Reassembly is just as challenging - the rotations are easy to find but then you have to backtrack through that very well hidden pathway. It took me several hours over 2 evenings to get there. This is a candidate for one of the puzzles of the year for 2021 - AMAZING!

At the moment the Chamburr is still available here - buy it straight away and if you find Cyburr up for sale again then don't hesitate.

Sunday 14 March 2021

Celebrating 10 Years Helped By Pelikan Puzzles

The upcoming release from Pelikan
I am going to start today's blog post all sentimental and maudlin. If Allard can do it then certainly I can too - I am MUCH more of a sentimental fool than him. Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of my very first post on this blog. It was really just an announcement of an intention to write about puzzles and then the following day (14th March 2011) was my very first puzzle related article and I started with something special - the original Revomaze series. It was these gorgeous lumps of heavy metal that got me hooked. I needed to find a way to take my mind off an unexpected near death experience and these were it. Of course, any true bloke who gets interested in a new toy will take to the forums and those bastards lovely ladies and gentlemen got me hooked on more and more puzzles. Within a few months they had forced me into taking the huge leap to my first really "expensive" puzzle (Tom Lensch's version of the Mazeburr). Yes, I was hooked! I wanted to publish at least once a week until I either ran out of puzzles, ran out of steam or Mrs S murdered me and I have actually managed that for 10 whole years (Mrs S really has come close to ending the blog though). Initially I was publishing 2 or even 3 times a week but that gradually settled down to my usual weekly schedule. I had been advised by a blogging guru to set a schedule and stick to it - apparently your readers have certain expectations and you should try not to disappoint them. Indeed on a few occasions if I dared to be late then I would get an email asking if everything was Ok and where was their weekend reading? I settled into a routine and have managed to write something every week apart from on 2 occasions - I think I can be forgiven for missing the day after my mother died and also last year when I was really ill with Covid having caught it at work. 

In this 10 years, bloggers have come and gone but the people/puzzlers behind them all remain - this is just a hobby and people have to live their lives. I am very proud to stand alongside Allard in completing 10 years of entertainment for the community. In that time there have been 619 posts on my main site plus 138 on the associated New additions page (this was the only way Blogger would let me set up a separate page) and my pageviews ramped up quite quickly. As of publication today I have received 1.9 million pageviews and now that so many have occured after my mother died I can now convince myself it wasn't just all her. My most viewed posts are on the Hanayama Cast Quartet at 23,300 views followed by my post about twisty puzzle parity at 22,800 views. 
Puzzlemad main site
Puzzlemad New stuff page
I was achieving 10-15,000 views per month but the last 15 months have seen a sudden increase to 30,000! Unbelievable that so many crazy people out there want to read my drivel! My readership is truly global which boggles my tiny mind. 
What happened at the end of 2019?
It has been the community out there who has kept me going. The trouble with blogging is that it is a huge effort to do this week in and week out and it often feels that you are shouting out into the void. Over the years many of you have contacted me or left comments on my posts as well as been in touch via my personal Facebook page. It is those moments of contact and feedback that make it all worthwhile. I do not try to monetise this hobby - I  gratefully receive a few $CAD each month from PuzzleMaster if you buy from them via a link on my site but that is the only income I get. To be honest, I am not really interested in the idea of earning money from my hobby. I am lucky enough to work in a position where my income is secure and I want this to remain a hobby. I have turned down offers of sponsored posts, advertising and SEO posts. For me, this should be all MY work. Except (and it's a very BIG exception) for the guest posts provided for me by my wonderful friend and foreign correspondent, Mike Desilets. He has come up with the goods for me when I was either too busy or had nothing prepared. I also like to think that he provides a great view of an alternative side to this hobby. He certainly collects, solves and writes about modern puzzles but primarily he has shown off the more vintage side that I have very little knowledge of. I am exceptionally grateful to him for all his efforts on my/our behalf.

The desk is out of control! She says I MUST tidy up!
I hope to continue this wonderful hobby of puzzling and blogging for another 10 years at least as long as you will keep reading and as long as Mrs S will let me. I have a serious space problem - and have rearranged my collection many times and expanded from one small study into another room. When I mention taking over another room, the laser burning stare moves to between my eyes and I can smell/feel burning coming from my forehead. The conversation closes abruptly at that point! 

Now on to today's puzzle reviews. For my tenth anniversary post, I am so pleased to have received early copies of the upcoming releases from Jakub and Jaroslav at Pelikan puzzles. This particular batch is absolutely stunning and has some really special and unusual puzzles in it.

Pepper Castor

Top view
Bottom - the pepper casting view
This beautiful puzzle screamed at me to be tried first. It's a design by Alexander Magyarics, it's beautiful in Zebrano and Padauk and most importantly it's based on a triangular grid. Very few puzzle designs (other than 2D packing puzzles are very made using a triangular grid. I suspect that this is primarily because it is harder to design them with it being very hard to tell during the design process whether there will be unwanted rotational shortcuts. Also there are very few craftsmen willing to put in the time and effort to make the required jigs to these accurately. Here we have the perfect combination of a talented designer who has obviously done his homework and ensured there are no shortcuts as well as some of the best craftsmen in the world!

This puzzle is named after the pepper shaker/castor because of the pattern of holes on one end and it quickly becomes apparent that they are there for a reason. My first reaction during my early moves was that this was seriously fiddly. Then I realised that changing the orientation of the puzzle made certain moves easier to control and then I discovered that after 3 or 4 moves, my ability to backtrack was gone! I was stuck with a piece packing out and unable to visualise the internals to reset it. Oh well! Better carry on then. After about a ½ hour of progressively more anxious swearing, I removed the first piece and then the other two. There was no Aha! Moment as I had no idea how I had achieved it. I took my photo and realised that I had scrambled the pieces! At this point, it became quite apparent that this puzzle is a very special variant on the usual Magyarics theme... he had created a fancy low piece number interlocking packing puzzle. Very similar to many of his others but with the twist of a triangular grid and holes top and bottom.

Incredible pieces!
Repacking was a serious challenge, first reproducing the shape to fill all the gaps in the box and then working out the sequence. Finally actually having the dexterity to do it was a nice added bonus. This is a terrific puzzle as well as a gorgeous one!


Rattlesnake - you can see why
No release from Pelikan these days is complete without another wonderful packing puzzle from Alexander Magyarics. This beauty is stunning with a Wenge box complete with fairly large but quite restricted opening and 3 pieces to be placed inside made from Zebrano. As usual, the question I always ask myself is:

"there are only 3 hard can this be?"

Well, either I am stupid (probable) or this one has a serious challenge to it (quite likely). Several times I tried to get 2 pieces inside the box only to have one rotate inside and then block all other movements. Nearly gave me a heart attack at one point when I couldn't take the pieces out that I had placed in the wrong positions!

Not only is the opening fairly restrictive but the shape of the rattlesnake piece also ensures that the approach to insertion is very limited. In fact, there are only 4 orientations of that piece that will allow it to be inserted. What is more, the medium sized piece only has 7 possible insertion methods. I tried to be fairly methodical and realised quite quickly that I was unable to keep track of the possible combinations. Starting with that large piece, I ended up randomly looking at assemblies that sort of fit the 3x3 cube and discarded the ones that the second piece could not be inserted. This gave me quite a few possible assemblies which I made outside the box and then tried to simulate the disassembly. This took me several hours because I got fixated on one particular orientation of the snake which looked fantastic but would not assemble in place. Time to Think© again! Getting past my fixation proved a real challenge. I found another series of very nice assemblies but could not seem to get them to work until Aha! There was a wonderful moment when I noticed a possible move that is very very well disguised. I had worked it out. Getting the pieces into the box was then a bit of a dexterity puzzle as well. This is wonderful, right up there with the very best of Alexander's designs. It looks so simple but really takes some thought.



Now that is a complex construction!
I'm sure by now you all know that I adore the 3x3 cube based packing puzzles with unusual piece shapes and restricted entry into the container. I have lots of them from Osanori and Alexander and am always in the lookout for new variants. Imagine, if you will, yet another one, beautifully made by the guys at Pelikan but making things much more interesting the box has captive pieces which hook over two of the sides which can slide into any of the three positions on each of them. This means we have a similar type of packing puzzles but where the box can effectively change shape before and during the solution process. It also means that we have seven challenges where the "sliders" have to end up at different positions (the eighth potential configuration has no solutions). This is a puzzler's dream - beauty and multiple puzzles in one. It has been superbly constructed with a gorgeous Pink Oak box, Wenge captive sliding pieces and vibrant Purpleheart pieces.

These seven challenges are definitely not trivial, in fact I've only managed to solve 3 of them so far. I don't think that I have found the "best/longest" solution to them so I will have to keep looking. This one definitely needs to be solved outside first before attempting to fit it inside - but the captive sliding pieces make the thought processes much more difficult. This puzzle is absolutely fabulous and great value for money - go buy it now!

First challenge solved - YAY!


Akku - looks formidable straight away!
Dr Volker Latussek has been providing some fabulous puzzles to Pelikan for a few years now. They are all extremely clever and challenging - some so clever and challenging that they are beyond my abilities (blush, Euklid for Nick remains unsolved). In this release we have Akku (I am not sure why the German word for battery is the name of this puzzle - maybe Dr Latussek will comment below). This consist of a wonderful Acacia box and some very precisely crafted Maple pieces to be packed inside. There are 9 L shaped pieces to be fitted into the interior of the box. The cavity is 4x4x3 units in size and each L is 3x3x1 unit meaning that there will be just 3 holes in the packed puzzle but with such a large awkward shape the assembly will need some rotations to get the pieces into the restricted opening.

This is how it arrived - I cannot put it back this way!
The puzzle is shipped in a special shape that Dr Latussek instructed and I took the pieces out of the box for the photo only to find that I could not get them back into that shape again! This was going to be a foreboding of what was to come. I spent quite a while trying to find how to assemble a 4x4x3 cuboid from these pieces and even this was a struggle. In the end I resorted to Burrtools to try and find the possible arrangements - there are 6 ways to assemble the shape. Time to pick one and get it into the box. Easier said than done! This is a serious puzzling challenge. After 2 evenings of attempts, I finally worked it out - wonderful idea. Think of how best to rotate an L shaped piece and then see what you can do with it. My solved picture is behind a spoiler button - it doesn't give a lot away but there is some info in the picture that might give more of a hint than you want - you have been warned! Don't click the button!

Fake Cube

Fake Cube - this is beautiful and looks impossible
This glorious work of art has been made from Acacia and Padauk. The aim is to assemble the complex pieces into a cube shape which can be stood on its' corner in the stand - these 10 identical and oddly shaped pieces need to assemble into a 6x6x6 cube. Just doing the simple maths tells me that this doesn't add up - each piece is 18 voxels in volume  with 10 of them making 180 voxels in total and the 6x6x6 cube will be 216 voxels - quite a large discrepancy. Hence the name...the Fake cube needs to be assembled so that just the exterior looks like it is complete and hides the holes inside and on the walls adjacent to the case. This reminds me of a stunningly beautiful and much more complex version of the Half-cube puzzles from Vinco. Yet again, I removed all the pieces for my photo and couldn't put them back into the packing position (I love how all of his puzzles have a specific arrangement for transport). I have not had long enough to play with this puzzle - I have managed (by pure luck) to make a shape that will fit into the case but clearly not correct as there are lots of holes visible on all sides:

I'm fairly certain there shouldn't be gaps there
The more that you play with this the more compelling it becomes. Initially it seems to be quite unintuitive and a whole lot of random trial and error but as I played I realised that the way the pieces fit together was extremely constrained and I needed to work with this constraint to create at least 3 complete faces and 8 (out 12) complete edges which would be visible. in the case once complete. Easier said than done! I have not had enough time yet to solve this one but I think with a few more hours of trying I will get there. It is a seriously difficult assembly/packing puzzle but like most of Dr Latussek's creations, it can be solved more with thought than trial and error. For once I am hoping that my thinking© might actually help here.


I have not yet had time to play with this one and will review it properly as soon as I have. When the "TIC master", Andrew Crowell gets together with the master of interesting interlocking shapes, Christoph Lohe then I have to pay attention! These puzzles are very reminiscent of several of the best interlocking puzzles of all time (Lucida and Identical twins by Osanori) but almost certainly are going to be significantly tougher to solve. Chamburr is made from Merbau and Pink Oak and looks fabulous with Pelikan's usual perfect accuracy.


Another that I haven't yet played with. Like Chamburr, it is a collaboration by Andrew Crowell and Christoph Lohe but this time made from Mahogany and Maple. The aim is to separate the pieces from the complex frame and I have no doubt that it will involve some complex rotations in the process.


On loan from Shane
Just a quick (and not terribly happy) sidenote. Not everyone in this community is great - I am incredibly proud to have in my collection the complete set of Hales puzzles and they form a centrepiece in my collection. I am very aware that these are effectively just on loan as the agreement with all of Shane's puzzles is that they should never be sold and should be returned to the creator when no longer required. It would appear that there is one deceptive person who has been skirting the edge of the community for a few years and due to his terrible behaviour has been shunned by pretty much everyone. If you want to learn some new interesting swearwords then ask Eric Fuller about Niko. Niko uses a number of aliases and has duped puzzlers and craftsmen into giving or selling cheap and has even tried to hack Eric's site. He has a blog which is pretty rubbish and uses it to deceive quite a few naïve puzzle creators into giving him copies of their creations which he has then flogged at huge profit. He has now managed to con a holder of Shane's Viper puzzle out of someone when they were at a low point in their life and has put it up for sale at an exorbitant price.

Please do NOT buy this puzzle from him - he is an untrustworthy conman and does not own that puzzle to sell - Shane wants it back. If you are contacted by him then just refuse to continue to speak to him. He has several names that he uses including first names of Niko, Nick or Nicholas and surnames of Azerty, Nicolas or Demarquez. He is not worth your time - all of us puzzle bloggers have ceased contact, he has been banned from all the auction sites and most craftsmen including Eric and Wil Strijbos are refusing to deal with him. This says it all!

Sunday 7 March 2021

Packing Pies Positively Peaks My Performance

Pie Box by Haym Hirsch
A few weeks ago, I saw with some amazement that a very talented Facebook friend of mine, Haym Hirsh, had teamed up with a craftsman to have some of his puzzle designs made. They looked fun and mathematically based so I decided that I should give them a try. I was not surprised to see mathematical puzzles from him seeing as he works at Cornell University having studied Maths and Computer Science. I love mathematical stuff and even attempted to study for a Master of maths degree with the Open University based here in the UK (unfortunately after my first few years as a consultant I got much too busy to study in my spare time and had to set it aside but do maintain a more than passing interest). Haym had teamed up with Fin of NothingYetDesigns (primarily based on Etsy but also now setting up his own webstore). The advantage for us in the UK with using Etsy is that they automatically add the VAT and hence cut out any nasty surprises and delays on arrival of my toys in the country.

I chose a bunch of designs and Fin said that when the other was back in stock, then he'd let me know. I was ever so slightly horrified to see how the USPS tracks the packages. I watched my first batch of 4 go across the US and then saw an attempted but failed deliver in Florida. In a panic I checked my delivery address and it definitely said the United Kingdom on it. The following day, I was even more horrified to see that they had tried again and actually successfully delivered the package in Florida and my tracking was showing as delivered. I quickly checked my front door and it definitely wasn't there. After a reassuring contact with Fin, it would appear that the USPS consider delivery to the airport as delivered. About 4 days later I received my pack of puzzles.

They are all really nicely packed up - it looks very like he either makes his own sealable bags or they are available in every possible size combination:

Every puzzle arrived in its' own sealed envelope of exactly the correct size
The only thing I did need to be careful of was that the very robust black rubber bands did not get eaten by my cats! They absolutely adore chewing on rubber bands and then eat them. It is really unpleasant when they get to the other end with "stuff" hanging out! Mrs S gave me a very stern warning about the rubber bands and in fear I kept them safe whilst taking my photo.

I started with the Pie Box at the top of the post and attempted to put all 8 segments of pie (that fit so nicely in the circular cutout on the right) into the slightly smaller square on the left. I thought that this would be a trivial matter of moving the segments so that they form straighter lines i.e. alternate directions to approximate a square shape. Well that didn't work! I should have known that Haym would be more sneaky than that. The search was on. I really don't enjoy puzzles that seem to have a huge amount of random trial and error and it initially did seem that this was the case here. However, I quickly realised that I needed to investigate ways to get these pieces packed with as little wasted space as possible. Definitely not trivial but after an hour of thinking© I had a nice little Aha! moment. No! I am not going to show the solution - go and buy it and work it out for yourself.

After having some pie, you always want More Pie
Time for More Pie. We start with a pie cut into 7 equal slices and an eighth waiting to be put in the box. There looks like plenty of room but believe me, there really isn't. Again, I tried the same technique as I did with the first puzzle and of course that didn't work. Here we go again - time for another brain workout. This was oddly even more difficult and took me quite some time to find the solution. Very satisfying and quite a lot of puzzling for such a cheap puzzle.

I was on a roll - packing pies had helped my brain power! Time for another one - I was particularly interested in this as it looked really quite logical - Eloquint:

Eloquint - 5 L's to be placed in the space
It looks like there is not enough space in the puzzle for them all but the packing space continues under the lip of the top plate. Each L is 3x3 units and the space for them to be fitted into is 6x5 units so there is plenty of space for them to be placed but getting them in proves to be a bit of a challenge! This puzzle is like a 2D version of the wonderful 3D designs of Osanori Yamamoto and Alexander Magyarics. Finding the position is one thing, then the challenge is to actually get it into the frame. It only took me about ½ an hour but had a very nice Aha! moment.

This is fabulous - I cannot fail! Time for:

Stubborn Twelfth
A nice big square with 11 asymmetric pentagons inside. There looks like plenty of space for that twelfth. I am afraid that this is where my luck ran out! I have spent a good few hours fiddling with this and am getting absolutely nowhere with it. So I moved on to the other one that had to wait until he made some more:

This one consists of a circular space covered by a clear perspex/acrylic lid which can rotate freely. The 6 Trapezoid shaped pieces can fit under the lid through a segment removed from it. Just finding a shape that fits in the circle was fun and a bit of a challenge but it has so far proven totally impossible to fit them in via the small hole!

It may be that my 2D packing puzzle prowess is limited to pies and "ells"? I have been working on the Legal packing puzzle on and off for 6 months and have got no closer with that either - triangles and quadrilaterals are obviously impossible for me!

I have put them away for a while because I have run out of ideas and I have been distracted by some new toys that have arrived from Jakub. I will need to come back to these later. I always assume that if I keep returning to a puzzle then I will get there eventually. Some puzzles have taken me years! Some puzzles still remain unsolved after year but then I will keep trying.

Take care everyone - most of the world is improving slowly (although the rates in many parts of the USA remain stubbornly high). Keep paying attention to the rules, get vaccinated when it's your turn and we will eventually get back to normal.